Yuri Luzhkov

Russian politician Yuri Luzhkov (born 1936) has proven to be a popular mayor of Moscow. He has ushered in reforms to the economy and infrastructure that have increased the prosperity of the nation's capital.

Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow since his appointment by Boris Yeltsin in 1992, is a reformer who directly involves city government with the interests of private economic enterprises. Perhaps more important, he seems to have an intuitive sense of knowing what issues to champion, which people to support, and when to be in the public eye. He has made it clear to his subordinates and to Muscovites alike that he is the man in charge of the city. At times, he appears to be the ruler of a near-independent city-state. He has used his position to refuse the federal government's plan to privatize state assets in his city; as a result, Moscow now controls all federal property within its boundaries. He has also made efforts to develop the infrastructure of the city. A popular official, Luzhkov received approximately 90 percent of the vote in the 1996 mayoral election.

Son of a Carpenter

Yuri Mikhailovich Luzhkov was born in Moscow on September 21, 1936. His father was a carpenter, but Luzhkov preferred mechanical engineering and studied at the Gubkin Institute of Oil, Gas, and Chemical Industries. Soon, however, he became more interested in government. By combining his education with his interests, he landed a job in the Ministry of the Chemical Industry in 1964. For the next 13 years, he occupied a series of managerial positions in the ministry. In 1987, he became first deputy chairman of the Moscow Executive Committee and head of the Moscow Agro-Industrial Committee during which he ran the city's food distribution system. Yet his desire to advance to increasingly more responsible job levels was being thwarted in the Communist system of Soviet Russia. Leadership positions usually went to party officials, and Luzhkov had no strong connections to the party. During the last days of Communism in Russia, however, he worked for Boris Yeltsin, who was a Moscow party boss.

Luzhkov's opportunities to advance were improved after the fall of the Soviet Union when he was appointed deputy to Gavril Popov, the first mayor of Moscow in post-Communist Russia. After a year, it was apparent that Popov was more interested in politics than the management of Moscow. By default, Luzhkov handled the day-to-day operations of the city. Once his old boss, Yeltsin, became president of Russia, Luzhkov was made mayor by decree when Popov resigned in 1992.

Staying Power

Currently, Luzhkov is a major political leader in Russia. He has thrived in an environment in which many other politicians have risen and quickly faded. Luzhkov is also extremely popular with the ten million residents of Moscow. Muscovites admire him because he is seen as a leader who can accomplish his goals. He won re-election in June of 1996 with nearly 90 percent of the vote. "His popularity began when people began to get tired of politics, " Andrei Klochkov, an analyst at the Russian Socio-Political Center told U.S. News & World Report writer Christian Caryl. "Luzhkov said, … 'I'm just a builder."'

City residents admire many of Luzhkov's more conspicuous efforts. "He is known to Muscovites simply as 'The Boss, "' noted Charles Piggott and Askold Krushelnycky in the European. Under Luzhkov's direction new subway stations have opened, rutted roads have been paved, and Moscow is now surrounded by a ten-lane superhighway. He has also had an estimated 32 million square feet of new apartment space built each year. His pet projects include the construction of a World War II memorial; the development of Luzhniki Stadium, which will be Europe's largest roofed stadium; and the reconstruction of the nineteenth century Cathedral of Christ the Savior that dictator Joseph Stalin tore down in 1931. Government officials claim that Luzhkov gets the money for such expensive, and some say extravagant, projects through privatization. In 1994, Yeltsin gave Luzhkov control over Moscow's inventory of state property. In 1997, Moscow took in $1 billion in privatization revenues. In addition, as noted in the Economist, Moscow receives "[t]wo-thirds of foreign investment into Russia, and four-fifths of all Russian capital."

Luzhkov has become such a powerful Russian leader that he has even gotten involved in affairs outside Moscow. In early January of 1997, for example, he traveled to Sevastopol, the Crimean port in the Ukraine, where he promised to have housing built for the sailors of the Russian Black Sea fleet. The housing was to be funded by the Moscow city government. He also announced that the port should be returned to Russia, infuriating Ukrainian government officials and embarrassing Yeltsin. In addition, Luzhkov has come out in support of union with Belarus, the small former Soviet republic in east central Europe. At the end of 1997, he criticized the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for trying to negatively influence Russian economic development.

Successful and Supportive Governing Style

Luzhkov runs Moscow by defining clear duties among his team, and he prohibits city officials from encroaching on each other's area of responsibility. Consequently, factions have not developed that can potentially disrupt the operation of city government. Although Luzhkov has issued public reprimands to his team leaders, he will support them during times of controversy. He is not only a technically good city manager, owing, in part, to his background in engineering, but he is considered a good manager of people. Among his advisors is Vladimir Yevtushenkov the head of a joint-stock company called the Moscow City Committee for Science and Technology. In addition, Yevtushenkov is an old friend of Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, who is also an adviser on many issues and a successful business-woman in her own right.

Alleged Ties to Crime

Although credited with much of the reform occurring in Moscow, Luzhkov is also being blamed for the increasing crime in the city. Luzhkov has responded to this criticism by putting approximately 5, 000 law-enforcement volunteers on the streets of the city. Still, many critics note that law enforcement is weak, and police allegedly take bribes. The presence of organized crime has resulted in more frequent reports of kickbacks, car bombs, and contract murders. In 1996, an American businessman, entangled in a legal dispute with a city agency over hotel property, was killed on the street.

Luzhkov's image is threatened further by his friendship with people such as Iosif Kobzon, a businessman and singer who, according to foreign law-enforcement agencies, is closely tied to organized crime in Russia. Yet such allegations have not discouraged Luzhkov's supporters. "Perhaps Luzhkov is on the take, " a Russian anti-corruption politician told Time contributor Paul Quinn-Judge. "But he is getting this place into shape. So why should I waste my time on him? Others do nothing but steal."

Another blemish on Luzhkov's mayoral record is Moscow's growing homeless population, officially numbering approximately 100, 000 in 1997 but probably much higher. Luzhkov has overseen mass expulsions of the homeless from the city and the alleged "roughing-up" of the darker-skinned minorities. This has resulted in criticism from international human-rights groups. Yet Moscow has become a busy city with well-stocked grocery stores; consequently, many residents believe crime and homelessness are a part of progress. "For all its crime and corruption and bureaucracy, Moscow has by far the best-developed infrastructure in Russia, and a government that understands roughly how laws and markets work, " noted the Economist.

Politician's Dance

With such power and popularity among Muscovites, Luzhkov appears to be a logical choice for prime minister or president of Russia in the twenty-first century. Yet his rise to the country's top spots is not guaranteed. He cannot afford to antagonize incumbent leaders, yet he must distance himself from them and many of their policies. In the early 1990s, Luzhkov was a staunch supporter of President Yeltsin. He allied himself with other reform leaders in August 1991 when he joined them in the Russian White House in anticipation of an attack by coup leaders. More than anything else, this earned him Yeltsin's gratitude.

Luzhkov has continued to profess admiration for Yeltsin and supported him against unpopular voices within the remains of the Communist party. Yet, at times, he distances himself from the president. In 1997, for example, the weekly Moscow newspaper, Obshchaya Gazeta, reported that Luzhkov had said that Yeltsin was not fully in control of the country. Luzhkov has also distanced himself from many unpopular reforms supported by Yeltsin, has criticized ministers and their mistakes, and has publicly disclosed corrupt practices. Still, he maintains access to all Russian leaders.

Luzhkov continues to expand his public image into the international arena. A new Moscow television and radio station recently went on the air with substantial funding from the city. In order to broaden his appeal to those outside Moscow, Luzhkov is trying to make the television station national. In September of 1994, he signed an agreement with 20 heads of Russian regions that established direct economic and cultural links between Moscow and the provinces. Leaders in the Russian hinterland have been suspicious of Luzhkov and jealous of Moscow's new prosperity. Yet, Pavel Bunich, a Luzhkov adviser and member of parliament, told David Hoffman of the Washington Post that envy would recede "once people see there are no potholes on the roads."

Luzhkov is becoming more aware that his age might be a political liability. By 2000, he will be 64 years old, the same age of Yeltsin in 1996 when Russia's government was at a standstill as it waited out the president's fight with poor health. Moscow observers speculate that Luzhkov's rival for the presidency may be his deputy, Boris Nikolsky, who is more than two decades younger than Luzhkov. Thus, the mayor frequently shows off his athleticism and good health by playing soccer and fishing. Every winter, he breaks the ice in the Moscow River and plunges in for a supposedly healthy swim. The media even reported on his appearance at a local circus where he was practicing on the trapeze until he fell and injured his leg.

During the 850th anniversary celebration of Moscow in 1997, Yeltsin publicly commented on Luzhkov's energy and accomplishments. On December 14, 1997, elections for the 35-seat City Duma, Moscow's representative body, resulted in the most votes for candidates who supported Luzhkov. The Duma had been perceived as a governing body unwilling to challenge Luzhkov, resulting in Luzhkov's ability to run the city unhindered. The December elections were seen as an informal referendum on Luzhkov's potential as a presidential candidate. As noted by Caryl, "The mayor is the only Russian politician whose popularity has steadily risen in recent years and continues to do so."

Further Reading on Yuri Luzhkov

Economist, April 20, 1996; February 8, 1997; August 9, 1997; April 11, 1998.

European, February 2, 1998.

McLean's, July 15, 1996, p. 35.

New Statesman, September 12, 1997.

Sydney Morning Herald, September 13, 1997.

Time (Australia), October 6, 1997, p. 53.

Times (London), May 31, 1995.

U.S. News & World Report, May 19, 1997, p. 19.

Washington Post, February 24, 1997, p. A1.

"Yuri Mikhaylovich Luzhkov, " Centre for Russian Studies Database, http://www.nupi.no/cgi-win/Russland/personer.exe/513 (March 18, 1998).

"Russia: Future of Democracy, " Close Up Foundation, http://www.closeup.org (March 20, 1998).

"Boris Yeltsin fires premier, majority of Russian cabinet, " CNN Interactive, http://www.cnn.com (March 23, 1998).